A crocodile species thought to be extinct in the wild has been discovered in remote
rivers and marshes at the base of Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains.
The discovery of the Siamese crocodiles (Crocodylus Siamensis) by a team led Dr Jennifer
Daltry, a British Conservation Biologist with Fauna and Flora International (FFI),
and Chheang Dany, the Field Survey Coordinator for Cambodia's Wildlife Protection
Office (WPO), is described by Daltry as "exciting and dramatic."
Daltry said the first indications that crocodile populations remained in the Cardamom
Mountains came last year after a series of interviews with hunters conducted by FFI
and WPO staff.
However at that time the species could not be identified by the secondhand reports.
Daltry said there were only two contenders: the critically endangered Siamese crocodiles,
or the more widespread saltwater crocodiles.
Between February 25 and March 7, Daltry and Dany lead their team on an "arduous"
trek along the rivers and through the forest of the Cardamoms searching for signs
of the crocodiles.
The team was rewarded for their efforts with three good sightings of live crocodiles,
plus numerous observations of dung, tracks and trails.
Daltry said: "Crocs are extremely wary animals and typically flee at the first
sight or sound of a human. To see three in such a short time suggests that they are
not uncommon in this area.
"We believe that protection of the central Cardamom Mountains could be the last
hope for the survival of this magnificent reptile."
But the existence of two major logging roads being constructed through the crocodiles'
habitat is "a serious threat" to the reptiles, she said.
The on-going biodiversity survey led by FFI has discovered that the Cardamoms are
also home to tiger, gaur and other globally threatened species.
The WPO's Chheang Dany said his department was aware crocodiles existed in Cambodia,
but they did not have the expertise to identify the species.
"It was very hard work and in the marshes I felt a little bit afraid of the
snakes," said Dany, "But when I saw Dr Jenny [Daltry] without any fear,
then I thought if she is not afraid then I should not be."
Dany said the first crocodile spotted by the team was sunning itself on a sand bank,
but by the time they got their cameras out, it had scurried into the river.
The area of marsh where the team made further sightings was only a few hours walk
from the nearest village, said Dany.
"The villagers don't want to disturb that area because they are afraid of the
crocodiles. They don't want to fight with them so they fish in a stream where the
crocodiles do not live," he said.
Daltry said villagers in the Cardamoms believe killing crocodiles brings bad luck,
or even death, but they say the crocodile population has declined in the past few
They attribute the decline to the use of explosives for fishing, and new settlers
to the region who shoot the crocodiles for fun.
Because the newly found population of crocodiles could be at serious risk from commercial
interests in neighboring countries, Daltry said it is important to keep their exact
location a secret.
Dany suggests that if the Siamese crocodiles have been driven to extinction in wilds
of Thailand then it is perhaps time they be given a new name.
"This crocodile exists in Cambodia. Why not call it the Cambodian crocodile?"